As with everyone in the Architectural design industry, I have noted the inexorable rise in the number of hours that individuals in offices are required to work in order to meet deadlines. These deadlines are very often set very unreasonably, to say:
- Fit into a funding bodies’ end of financial year time scale, to suit their own bureaucracy and funding deadlines;
- Developers requiring redesigns because the “market” has run counter to their cost consultants’ estimates of schemes’ construction costs.
- Clients’ changes to designs required on site and the necessity to deal with the fall out, with increased contract administration not to mention redesign time.
These time pressures are similar in many associated building consultancies such as engineering, but it is far worse, I feel, in architectural practice. Needles to say that this culture is not compensated for with increased fees, reflecting the extra hours worked as fees continue to drop rather than increase.
This ‘extreme hours’ culture eventually takes its toll on individuals’ lives both private and professional, with many dropping out of the profession.
Therefore our 5in4 trial period, is BLA’s attempt to start looking at this phenomenon in a way that – whilst working the hours of a full week – makes the extra hours often required from staff members to be either paid for separately or negotiated with a client, to then be added onto the programme of a commission.
I, of course, have worries about what we are embarking on :
- Loss of 20% visibility during the week.
- Inability to meet urgent deadlines as staff will be unavailable for that 5th day of working if needed.
- Negative perceptions within the client group of part time working.
- Disproportionate effort by certain individuals to maintain “the safety net” of being available on the Fridays for emergency issues.
However on the positive side:
- BLA will still work a 38hr week, it will just be compressed into 4 days.
- Individual staff members will have a reduced commute to and from work.
- There will be an extra day for staff members’ private lives, potentially making family life less pressured.
- We should be able to manage the expectations of clients and contractors that meetings and queries are arranged in the first four days of the week.
- For the 5in4 to truly work we will have to work much smarter. There will have to be less repetition; less pondering re design; less bespoke unique solutions.
- There will have to be much faster initial solutions, with modelled presentations leading to faster and firmer sign offs of frozen design stages.
- We are going to have to gauge our clients needs in how bespoke they wish to be in design, or in fact how they want to simply have a standard solution.
- We are going to monitor and possibly scale back the “service” we provide to inexperienced and under-resourced contractors and clients.